Monday, March 22, 2010

March for California pushes through Wasco

SDNN's Editor’s Note: San Diego City College Professor Jim Miller is on the march — the March for California’s Future. During the seven-week trek from Bakersfield to Sacramento, through the heart of California, Miller and fellow marchers will talk to people and organizations along the way to explain their purpose and encourage them to join them in the march and, more important, in their quest. From the march’s Web site: “Our purpose: to transform a crumbling California to the prospering State it once was by investing in public services vital to maintaining our quality of life: our schools, parks, libraries, safety net services, infrastructure and more. … Our broad coalition, which includes the California Federation of Teachers and other unions, leaders in labor, faith, education and business, believe we cannot afford to balance the budget by shortchanging our future and allowing tax cuts for large corporations and millionaires. We deserve a fair tax system that allows us to invest in California’s vital resources .”

On the road from Shafter to Wasco we keep getting waves and honks of encouragement, with people pulling over and offering us water and snacks. We pass by almond groves being crop-dusted and boxes of bees until we hit Wasco. Here we go to True Light Baptist Church and stay for the three-hour service where we are blessed and literally embraced by the entire congregation, one by one, after communion.

Much of the African-American population here fled the dust bowl in Oklahoma during the thirties. Some of the older folks at True Light tell us that the strip malls killed some of their community’s small businesses and the kids are leaving. Now they count the prisoners in the nearby state facility as part of the population. I think of the kid I saw on the street on the way in, cursing the heavens and pounding his fist in his hand.

On the way to McFarland, a woman stops us in tears because her son, a social worker in LA, had been at the march kick-off at Mount Moriah. She works in the community here, helping with the Healthy Families program and serving in a local free clinic. “It’s the poor these cuts are killing,” she says before posing for a picture with us and promising to follow the March for a few days (and she does, bringing us water each time).

In McFarland, we hear the average income is $12,000 a year and we camp in the parking lot of the middle school. After a cold shower in the school locker room, I come out to meet a few teachers and staff, one of whom says, “It’s schools versus prisons, man. And we’re losing.” Then a science teacher mentions that the Race to the Top funds (if they had gotten them) only would have brought them $30,000, not enough to even keep their buses moving for a year. Finally, the school custodian tells us his daughter just got a pink slip. And the news looks worse for the coming year.

In Delano we are met by the United Farm Workers in Cesar Chavez Park where Dolores Huerta tells a rally of about a hundred folks that the top 1 percent of taxpayers and the big corporations need to pay their fair share. Then we march to Forty Acres, the historic home of the UFW, with the elders of the community. I am humbled to walk in those footsteps in the service of another cause, a cause just as crucial to the future of the lives of working people: the right to opportunity for all, the moral imperative of caring for the most needy and weakest of our citizens. Here in Delano, prison work has passed farm work as the most common occupation.

In Allensworth, we have a rally in a state park only open two days a week due to budget cuts. Here, leaders from the African American community speak to the importance of maintaining access to the site of an autonomous black township founded around the turn of the 20th century as a model of self-reliance and dignity. Others note that not just cuts to parks but also cuts to education and aid to poor communities represent a pressing civil rights issue—denial of access to opportunity. When I speak to the crowd, I note that it takes a 2/3 majority to provide needed revenue for our children’s schools but only a simple majority to dole out corporate tax breaks. “If a simple majority is fair for the most privileged amongst us, then the same rules ought to apply to our kids.”

It was a gorgeous afternoon with the sun illuminating the lush green meadow. There are many more miles to go and the journey is hard but, on the road to Tulare, a farm workers’ wife brings us oranges and melons. It’s little kindnesses like that that keep us going.

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